What does Ephesians 2:8-9 mean?

Question
What does Ephesians 2:8-9 mean?
Answer

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Some brief definitions may assist us here:

A. Grace - In context, this means underserved favor; not something one can earn or even deserve to receive. Grace is a free gift of God.

B. Saved - In context, this is the reality of conversion, justification, adoption, and the now but not yet absolute surety of glorification (edoxasen, aorist form in Rom. 8:30).

C. Faith - This is the gift of God given to his children at regeneration. In context, it is the ability to believe in the redeeming work of Christ alone for salvation. In the order of salvation, conversion (which includes the giving and exercise of the gifts of faith and repentance), comes "after" regeneration.

D. Works or own doing - This is anything done by a person whether for reward, pleasure, or merit of any kind. There are no works man may do to earn the right to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit. In election, calling, and regeneration man is passive and God alone is active. Only in conversion (faith + repentance) does man act, and even this action must be divinely aided by the Holy Spirit.

E. Boast - In context, this means to praise oneself for anything one has accomplished or caused to be accomplished. It sinful root rests in a state of self-sufficiently, as opposed to absolute dependency.

So, one's regeneration is by grace through faith; it is not from ourselves, but is a gift of God alone; not our works, but His alone. Grace is preeminent. Regeneration is from God as a gift, not from ourselves as the result of any works or good things that we have done. Since regeneration is entirely the gift of God alone, man can't boast as it is to the praise of God's glory alone (Eph. 1:14). So, regeneration is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9), not of man's works, which are nothing more than filthy rags (Isa. 64:6).

Paul's thought though continues in Ephesians 2:10, stating, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." So, Ephesians 2:10 comes after Ephesians 2:8-9, not only sequentially, but also chronologically and conceptually. While man is not saved "by" or "through" good works he is saved "unto" them. One purpose of God's amazing work in his saints is so that they will fulfill that for which they have been purposed for from the very beginning. So, while a person's works are in no way the cause of their salvation they are a purpose of it (cf. Matt. 5:16).

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).